EU Commission promises alternative data retention plan

But why is it needed?

The European Commission says it will have a draft directive for data retention laws in Europe on the table by September, but early versions are already circulating among interested parties.

Lobby group European Digital Rights (EDRi), says that according to a draft it has seen, companies will be required to retain telephone data for one year, and internet data for just six months. Both periods are significantly lower than the three years suggested in the proposal, known as a draft Framework Decision, put forward by the UK, with backing from Ireland, Sweden and France.

The European Commission's rival proposal would need the backing of the European Parliament, and the Council of ministers if it is to become law, while the draft Framework Decision only needs the approval of Council of Ministers. However, it has been declared illegal, and MEPs have threatened to take Ministers to the European Courts of Justice, if they continue to push the draft through.

European Commission spokesman Friso Roscam Abbing said that the Commission's proposal would balance the need for data protection with the provision of adequate powers for law enforcement agencies to trace and track communications.

The proposals, which ministers argue will help police track down terrorists after attacks like the ones in Madrid and London, have been described by critics as being a case of putting the solution before the problem. After all, in London, all four suspected (failed) bombers have been apprehended without the need for these data retention laws. Similarly in Madrid, the police investigation did not appear to be hampered by lack of mobile phone data.

Critics, including many MEPs, argue that the proposals from the UK et al. could effectively force companies to breach existing European data protection laws. These state that data may only be retained for as long as is neccessary, except in unusual circumstances.

Indeed, none of the parties behind the draft Framework Decision has yet offered an explanation of why it would be necessary to retain the data. Indeed, Charles Clarke has acknowledged in a speech to MEPs that no case has yet been made for the laws but urged the parliament to press ahead with them regardless. ®

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